Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans. Are these terms you are confident about using when teaching sex and relationships education (SRE)? What about gender identity, cisgender and sexual orientation?
In a Stonewall survey, almost one in three secondary teachers said they “don’t know” if they are allowed to teach about lesbian, gay or bisexual issues. At the same time, more than nine in 10 say lesbian, gay and bisexual issues should be addressed in schools.
This clear need to provide information to support teachers in creating LGBT-inclusive curriculum content for SRE, coupled with young people repeatedly telling us that same-sex relationships and transgender people are often completely invisible in SRE, has led to the creation of the Sex Education Forum’s latest e-magazine, The LGBT Issue.
Recent landmark changes to legislation for LGBT equality – the Civil Partnership Act 2004, the Equality Act 2010, and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 – all mean that more than ever before we have an obligation to prepare young people for life in a society which embraces equality.
The Equality Act makes it clear that schools have a duty to promote equality both in everyday school life and in the way the curriculum is delivered. Indeed, the government’s SRE guidance states specifically that “young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationship education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs”.
More than a decade later, practice is still lagging far behind. In a survey of more than 7,000 young people by METRO’s Youth Chances project, only
25 per cent of LGBTQ respondents learnt anything about safe sex between men at school. Ofsted too raised concerns in its 2013 report Not Yet Good Enough, noting that casual use of homophobic language in schools often goes unchallenged.
A whole-school approach with good leadership is clearly needed, but SRE has a specific role to play, and getting this right means taking a full and honest look at the SRE programme. SRE is a subject which, when taught well provides essential sexual health information and also gives young people a safe space to explore values and attitudes and understand how prejudice comes about and how we can play a part in stopping it. Love, acceptance and respect are core values that run through good SRE, consequently good quality SRE has a special role to play in challenging homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
Advice in The LGBT Issue is designed to make inclusive SRE straightforward. Lesson ideas are provided and checking out language and terminology is a good starting point with key stage 3 pupils – vital learning, whether they identify as LGBT or not.
Advice is given about the importance of not making assumptions about the sexual orientation or gender identity of pupils. The magazine includes tips for inclusive sexual health information and also suggestions for teaching 6th-formers using the Allport Scale and Ollson’s Stair of Tolerance, which make links with other forms of discrimination and violence but also show how we can aim high – for schools and a society in which differences are celebrated.
For too long young people, regardless of sexual orientation, have spoken about the damage done by either poor-quality or non-existent SRE, telling us that the failure to discuss different families, gender identity and sexual orientation in school lessons is detrimental to their health and wellbeing.
Society has made some important steps toward achieving equality. Now the school curriculum needs to catch up. We know that SRE is still substandard for too many young people. For many young LGBT people it has been completely absent. Isn’t it about time we committed to educating and protecting all our children?